Moderation: Some things better left alone

ADDRESS: 1200 Hazel Street

ASKING: $675,000

SIZE: 3,546 fin. sq. ft., 1,366 unfin.



CURB APPEAL: 9 of 10

LISTED BY: Anthony McGhee Assist to Sell 979-1223

From politics to music, diets to baby gear, moderation seems to be in short supply these days. And nowhere is that fact more evident than in real estate– whether starting from scratch with a sultan's budget in a new subdivision, or gutting to the studs and starting over in Belmont or Fifeville– excess is the name of the game.

Kitchens the size of ballrooms, closets as big as family rooms, 6,000-7,000-square-foot "estate homes" stretched set-back to set-back on cookie-cutter lots– such are the options of folks with apparently limitless resources. But buyers of more modest means have elaborate choices, too: trendy concrete, granite, or soapstone kitchen counters; marble-encased Jacuzzis; and spiral stairways are just a few of the "updates" in some recent Belmont makeovers.

That's why coming upon a solid, sensibly proportioned, modestly modified house is a pleasant surprise. At first glance, this large pre-war brick house is strikingly similar to some others around town. Perhaps its slate roof, copper gutters, and extra height (the huge pine-floored attic is unusual) set it slightly apart, but in general, the flat fa├žade, one-story sunroom appendage, soapstone patio, and tidy lawn could describe any number of places currently on the market.

But then there's the slightly funky location– just a whisper beyond the boundary of ultimate chi-chi– a basil-lined walkway, a large herb garden in the corner of the front yard (beside a vegetable garden with corn stalk remnants and gone-to-seed asparagus fronds), and an odd one-pane-wide door off a small side deck.

Inside, however, not much unusual seems to be happening. Except for the contemporary furniture, some ceiling fans, and an understated kitchen/back hall reconfiguration, the house is pretty much the way Robert G. Burnett a nurseryman whose greenhouses were recently bulldozed to make way for "Burnett Commons" over on Elliott Avenue built it to be his own residence in 1939, moving up from a small bungalow across the street.

The current owners, with admirable restraint, opted to live with the house a while before making changes. What they found as time went on was that most of the original features were not only good enough to keep, but were preferable to anything they might substitute.

Take the kitchen, for instance. While the original layout was slightly modified a half bath was moved to the hallway and a window was converted to the skinny one-pane-wide door the stainless steel counters and sink, retro top-oven stove, and '50s refrigerator all work perfectly well, and– backed by chic purple-gray walls– even look positively modern.

The wood-burning fireplace in the living room, tile baths (sans Jacuzzi), solid wood bi-fold doors with brass fixtures, and graceful built-in corner dining room cupboards represent a time when quality beat flash and decorum trumped showiness.

Not to say that there's not some show here. But the five bedrooms of generous proportions, cedar closets with elaborate wood trim inside as well as out, wide graceful entry hall and stairs, and sleek quarter-sawn red oak floors combine to create an impression more of proportion and grace than razzle-dazzle.

Basic systems are up to current standards. A gas furnace fuels the radiators, buried electric service provides the requisite amps, and an automatic garage opener reminds us that we've come a ways from 1939. But these are invisible changes. When it came time for the disruption central air would require, the owners again politely passed. And– surprise!– on our visit, three unobtrusive window units were keeping the place as cool as any chugging heat pump would– without the tangle of ductwork.

The basement offers a generous workroom as well as a fully equipped darkroom, guest bedroom, and bath. (Another indication of Burnett's thoughtfulness: in that bedroom– probably for a maid or other servant– heart-pine covers the cement floor for warmth.) The attic is vented, spacious, and ready to be adapted to any number of uses.

A final neat touch: On the fourth stair leading to the attic, Mr. Burnett inscribed his signature, clear and bold. Undoubtedly, he wrote it with pride to commemorate the completion of his new house.

But future owners ought read it as a gentle admonition: tread softly and proceed with care.